By Amy Murrell-Haunold
Port Nicholas, Alaska
Forgive me for not writing for so long. I was going to call you, but the phone lines are out again. We're being whipped by the tail end of Typhoon Roddy with rain pouring down in sheets. Everything is shades of gray-green; the sea, the mountains, the sky, even the buildings and boardwalks. Except Emma's red slicker. Looks like she's heading for the General Store.
Hope you had a good summer. I'd love to have escorted a group of graduates around Europe. As it was, I felt lucky to have gotten to Anchorage before the weather set in. I took a group of my students to a tournament there for a week. It was like Disneyland for them.
Remember our graduation tour of Europe? Hope you were better behaved this time! Anyway, thanks for all the postcards--they'll make great visual aids when we start our chapter on Europe next semester.
I'm glad you're happy at Laguna High. Funny the way we ended up teaching so far away from the inner city. Well, you have to go where you're needed, I guess. And face it, five years of city toughs can wear you down. You should see my students here, everyday bright and eager to learn. Okay, so there isn't much else to do here. But it's still pretty refreshing.
So what can I tell you about Port Nicholas and Alaska? It's big. Green. And down here in the panhandle, it's really wet. I swear my towels never feel quite dry.
The mountains come right up to the edge of the water and everyone gets around in boats or float planes. Port Nicholas is half fishing town, half lumber town. I have a terrific apartment above my school. And yes, I do have both indoor plumbing and electricity.
I'm teaching everything from Kindergarten right up to tenth this year. It's very modern, considering. The adults donated some of their Alaska Permanent Funds to pay for computers, so now I even have half a dozen students out in the far islands who are on-line instead in the classroom.
So what is there to keep me so busy that I can't write to you more often? Well, we have a town hall where they run movies, hold dances and Bingo. Yes, I go to Bingo! Okay, it's not "The Theater." But it's fun. Really. Sometimes I go down to Frank's Looky Inn. It's not just a bar. They have a grill and it's the meeting place for everyone. The entire population of 208 drops in at least once a week, even the kids for a root beer. It's also the local post office.
We usually get mail once a month. Sometimes twice. It's great fun. Everyone sees the mail plane arrive and they start to filter in about two or three hours later. They know enough to give Miss Rachel time to unpack the sacks and sort before they come in to see what they've gotten. If you come too early or dare to ask while she's working, she'll bite your head off. Otherwise, she's a sweet old thing.
Miss Rachel is seventy if she's a day although she swears she's only 65. She and her husband, Frank built the bar back in the early 40's. They wanted to fish, but started the bar to keep them going during the off season. Most of her kids still help out now that Frank has passed away.
To answer the question uppermost in your mind, yes, I've been dating. Alaska is the place for a single girl to come. There's a local saying: The odds are good but the goods are odd. They aren't kidding. I had my choice of no less than 16 unattached males. However, the oldest was 72 and the youngest, a mere 21. I eliminated 12 of them immediately.
Three of the four "possibles" asked for dates within the first week; dinner at Frank's or a drink later. Ken Lincoln is a commercial fisherman/subsistence hunter, a real wilderness man. Big, dark and handsome in a homely kind of way. Ira McKenzie is the foreman at the mill and a compact blond with twinkly blue eyes. Tom George, well, I still haven't quite figured him out. He's real quiet. Lives subsistence, but also carves. He takes his work to a broker in Haines to be sold in the major cities at the native arts stores.
And then there's Carl. I met Carl one night after I'd been in town for almost a month. He came storming into Frank's, railing about something going on in Juneau, the state capital. Tall, bushy-haired with a week's worth of scratchy dark beard. And he smelled. Like fish. And smoke and other things I don't care to mention. His eyes were red-rimmed and at first I thought he might be drunk. I was appalled at the way he was talking to poor Miss Rachel, as if she had something to do with the way the state was being run.
She was a doll; set him down at the bar and got him a drink. (White wine; seemed an odd choice.) Then she sat and listened to him go on. I thought, the woman is a saint. Who is this guy? I whispered to Ira over the pool table. If he hates the way things are run so much, why doesn't he do something about it instead of verbally abusing poor Miss Rachel? Ira laughed at me in a kindly way as he lined up his shot. You are looking at Port Nicholas' current mayor, he told me, and Miss Rachel's youngest son! He was just in from a 36-hour halibut fishing opening.
You could have knocked me over with a feather. This was not my idea of a politician. But at least it explained the way he looked. Oh, I said to Ira, I guess he's doing what he can then. Ira told me that Carl was the passionate type, a little idealistic yet, but a good person. Somehow, after Carl left, the room seemed a little lackluster. So did Ira by comparison.
The next day was a rare sunny, warm day and Miss Rachel stopped by the schoolroom with an offer for the kids. Why didn't we take advantage of what was probably the last good day of fall and take our class outdoors? Her son had room for all of us on his fishing boat and would take us over to Sheltered Cove to study tide pools. It was too good to turn down. We grabbed our coats and lunches and headed for the dock.
I almost didn't recognize Carl when we got there. The wild, dark hair was trimmed and clean, the beard gone, and even his Carhartts were spotless. Good lord, I thought to myself, he sure cleans up fine. Kit, he was gorgeous! Gray eyes, long lashes and surprise!, a tiny cleft in his chin under that nasty stubble.
I found myself stumbling over words like an idiot. He stayed with us the whole day, patiently showing the kids edible seaweeds and naming all the shore birds. I found out later he'd studied to be a marine biologist but ended up commercial fishing to make a living instead.
As it turns out, when he isn't ranting about politics, he's soft-spoken and shy. A Harrison Ford type. I hoped he'd ask me out to the bar or Bingo, but he never really acknowledged me as anything other than "The Teacher." That day went by fast.
He popped into the schoolroom a week later asking if we'd like to have a guest. I've learned flexibility, so I said sure. A few minutes later, he's back with the Governor of Alaska in tow. I nearly fainted.
Have you ever met a governor? Do you ever remember meeting even a mayor or a state representative? Alaska's full of them and they all look like the guy next door. Heck, they are the guy next door! Except for Tony Knowles. He's real good looking. It was a chore to stay focused with those two in the room. Sigh. (He's a happily married governor. Double sigh.)
Well, the governor had been on business in Sitka and his plane was grounded by our rotten weather. So he and Carl spend a couple hours with the kids, talking about what it takes to run a town or a state and answering their questions. Even the little ones and our on-liners got a chance. They all call him Governor Tony. I think the entire state is on a first name basis with him. I took pictures, of course. (I'll try to remember to enclose one so you can eat your heart out!)
As he left, Carl asked if I'd like to watch Saturday's movie with him the next evening. I'm not sure my acceptance was cool enough but at the time, I didn't care.
I don't remember the movie but we talked over white wine at Frank's until Miss Rachel tossed us out. He rowed me home and kissed my hand good night! (Did you ever?!) Then he's gone and I hear nothing from him for a week when he shows up and asks if I'd like to go to Petersburg the next day. It was a Sunday, so I said okay. I didn't realize we'd be flying. Seems he's a pilot, too.
Again, a great time and again he disappears for a week or so. This time, a mayor's convention in Anchorage. By the third date, I was tired of maidenly waiting. I kissed him good night. It was glorious.
Kit, this went on all fall and into winter. A date, a little kiss here and there. In between seeing him, I was thinking about him. All the time. And refusing other dates. So on Christmas Eve, when he finally asked me to marry him, I said yes. I know it seems a little fast, but when it's right, it's right. I don't know what life will be like being married to a commercial fisherman/politician, but I know he's the one I've been waiting for. Coming here was the best gamble I ever took.
We're planning on a June wedding in hopes the weather will be something other than rain. Since it's just a plane hop away, most Alaskans consider Hawaii to be a suburb, so we're going to spend a week honeymooning on Maui. Via Juneau and Anchorage, of course. No direct flights from the bush.
So, if you can see your way clear to taking some time off from living in Paradise and teaching at Wonderful High, could you maybe come up and be my Maid of Honor? I promise I won't make you wear rubber boots with your gown and the seafood buffet will be fresh, courtesy of the groom. Heck, we'll even invite the Governor.
With love from your best old college buddy,